C2 can be as terrifying as it is inspirational

An Artist’s POV of the annual festival of business and innovation.

C2 2017

Photo courtesy C2

I’m an Artist. Therefore, I’m not supposed to care about business or money: an Artist should only be bothered with writing poetry and taking long pensive baths, and not ever thinking about how to sell their Art.

Branded as a festival about business and innovation, I came away from C2 Montreal thinking it was more about togetherness. Not since Woodstock has a festival (music, garlic or otherwise) possessed this ability to teach people to work together and, ultimately, live together.

Music festivals are unidirectional: the concertgoer points their attention at one of many stages and enjoys a one-way interaction with whoever is performing. And while C2 has all the immersion and pizzazz of a music festival, it adds a new layer: conversation.

Hippies, however, might bug-out and/or bad-trip if they knew how insanely corporate C2 was. With a ticket price starting at $2,000 per person, this is beyond the flower crowns and glamping of Coachella.

Comedian George Carlin famously made fun of the renaming of things to serve a cultural context: C2 has mastered this. Here, there are no brainstorms, only brain dates. A workshop is held in a repurposed, staged and curated event space called the “Garage” or the “Shed.” You are a maker! A team-building group task is a “Lab.” You are a scientist!

Panel: Content Marketing
Panel: Content Marketing

C2 is a festival for participants, where they are invited choose their own adventure. While keynote speakers are paid handsomely to share their ideas, experiments and inventions, the attendee’s role is one of discovery. They are encouraged to embrace their own ideas and inspirations, while underlining that it is vital, for innovation and the future, that we act on our impulses.

The greatest inspiration came from return speaker and Nobel Laureate Prof. Muhammad Yunus, who topsy-turvied the business of legitimate lending with the introduction of the microloan in Bangladesh. He trash-talked big banks and job-seekers while big-upping the adventurer, the risk-taker and the entrepreneur.

A panel that appealed to my compromised Artist side was called: “From front to back end: How to use data throughout a content marketing campaign.” This talk featured Hootsuite co-founder Dario Meli, The Washington Post’s director of global marketing Katie Emery and creative strategist at Facebook, Peter Grimaldi.

The terrifying takeaway from this discussion was that products and brands are now in direct competition with the media. Marketers are all driving toward the new currency: clicks, likes, shares and follows. These metrics define success, as sales wither away. Mr. Meli gave the example of a bespoke suit maker. Their competition is not only other bespoke suit makers, but also media outlets like GQ and Esquire, who share the same audience.

Dr. Naveen Rao under the 360 BigTop
Under the 360 BigTop

Maybe this concept is boring, or overwhelming, but in an Artistic context it is baffling. Musicians hire publicists to engage the media in hopes of “getting press,” but in the end, are musicians driving their audience to the media outlets, who essentially use our content (music) for free?

My businesswoman side was fully engaged, and I thought, perhaps, I might never write poetry in the bath again. I left that talk energized, and rushed off to the Press Room to gather my thoughts. Later, I wandered through cacophonous halls, tall scaffolding catwalks doubled as work zones, lined with giant screens or LED panels displaying inspirational quotes in a ticker-tape style. There was never silence — a keynote or two was always being broadcast from somewhere, over a din of chatting voices and chill electro music.

While Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak shared his ultra-chill world-view from under dramatic lights and ballooning tent-leaves of the gorgeous 360 Big Top, attendees either took it in, live-Tweeted or checked their Slack accounts.

Was being at C2 Montreal work? Buying a $20 sandwich from a food truck while casually schmoozing with CEOs didn’t much feel like work, but when I got home I was intellectually exhausted. I scheduled my next brain-date with my pillow. ■

Follow Natalia on Twitter @nataliayanchak